Part of what makes war politically palatable in a democracy, despite the large human toll, are campaigns to dehumanize the enemy. Thus Hussein and Ahmadinejad become Hitler, and dead civilians are erroneously labeled Al Qaeda terrorists. It’s rarely mentioned that most of the people who die in wars are innocent people, guilty of nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead we’re made to think countries like Iran, Iraq and Russia before them are filled to the brim with lunatics hell bent on conquest of the entire world.
While these hawkish viewpoints dominate our media, at least one notable dissenting voice has emerged. NY Times Op-Ed columnist Roger Cohen has been writing a string of excellent articles about modern day Iran. The picture he paints isn’t uniformly bad or good, but it becomes clear that the Iranians aren’t insane, and there is plenty of common ground for cooperation with “the West” moving forward.
From his column today:
I think pragmatism lies at the core of the revolution’s survival. It led to cooperation with Israel in cold-war days; it ended the Iraq war; it averted an invasion of Afghanistan in 1998 after Iranian diplomats were murdered; it brought post-9/11 cooperation with America on Afghanistan; it explains the ebb and flow of liberalization since 1979; and it makes sense of the Jewish presence.
Pragmatism is also one way of looking at Iran’s nuclear program. A state facing a nuclear-armed Israel and Pakistan, American invasions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and noting North Korea’s immunity from assault, might reasonably conclude that preserving the revolution requires nuclear resolve.
What’s required is American pragmatism in return, one that convinces the mullahs that their survival is served by stopping short of a bomb.
And, of course, those commited to demonizing Iranians are rhetorically pummeling Cohen for daring to even think the Iranians aren’t cartoonish villians. They’ve gone as far as to say Cohen is a self-hating Jew.
In any case, as the drum beat for war with Iran gets louder, I think it’s important to know who and what we’re poised to destroy.